Dozens of flights are being cancelled by airlines each day due to staff shortages and absences due to sickness.
British Airways, easyJet and Tui have all made the decision to cut back their summer schedules, with most routes being cancelled in advance and passengers notified.
The airlines say this will allow them to operate more efficiently and reduce the risk of last-minute cancellations.
However, some cancellations are continuing day to day, at the last minute – with some passengers reporting having their flights cancelled after they’d arrived to the gate or even boarded their plane.
Fortunately, consumer law is firmly on the passenger’s side.
Under European air passengers’ rights rules, easyJet must:
- ensure its passengers are flown where they need to be as soon as possible
- provide hotels and meals as appropriate
In addition, passengers are due compensation of either £220 (for flights of under 1,500km) or £350 (longer flights).
These are the key obligations for any airline that cancels a flight at short notice or suffers long delays.
My flight has been cancelled. When can I expect to get to my destination?
You are entitled to travel on the original day of departure, if there is any commercial way of getting you to your destination.
You should give the cancelling airline the opportunity to arrange a new flight (or – for domestic links in the UK or trips to Paris, Brussels or Amsterdam – a train).
I have been offered an alternative in two days’ time. Can’t I get there any sooner?
Yes. Airlines understandably want to keep passengers on their own services, but there are clear limits. The Civil Aviation Authority says that if the cancelling airline has another flight on the same day, it can rebook you on that (and provide meals while you wait).
But easyJet has its own, longer limit of 24 hours.
Some passengers say they have been told by easyJet that they cannot be transferred to another airline.
This is nonsense: all carriers must be considered.
If the cancelling airline cannot or will not meet its obligation, you should buy a ticket and then claim it back.
What if the replacement flight is from or to a different airport?
In addition to buying you a ticket to the country/region, the cancelling airline must also provide or pay for any additional ground transportation to get you to your original destination.
For example, if your easyJet flight to Naples is cancelled from Gatwick and the only alternative departure that day is on British Airways or ITA from Heathrow, then the airline should provide transport for your from Gatwick to Heathrow (likely a National Express bus).
If you are not given help, again you can pay and reclaim – but do all you can to keep the cost down. A taxi would not be reasonable and appropriate unless, say, you are in a group of four.
What if I am delayed overnight and need hotel accommodation?
Again, the cancelling airline must provide this – plus transport to and from the airport. If it does not do so, you should make your own arrangements, seeking to minimise the cost as much as possible. Note that easyJet says: “We will always do our best to provide customers with overnight accommodation. In times of widespread disruption that’s not always possible so we may ask you to find your own accommodation.
“In this case we ask that you look for accommodation, which is 3 stars or equivalent like Premier Inn, Ibis, Holiday Inn, Hotel Formule 1, Travelodge or Motel-One.
“If you choose to book more expensive accommodation when equivalent hotels within our suggested range were available, we will be unable to reimburse the full cost of the accommodation.”
Given that hotel rooms in the Gatwick area will be extremely difficult to find this evening, capping the price limit looks unenforceable in this instance.
What about meals?
Oddly, the time at which an airline’s obligation to provide you with “a reasonable amount of food and drink” kicks in depends on the length of the flight you were supposed to take with them.
- Under 1,500km: two hours
- 1,500km-3,500km: three hours
Typically passengers are given a voucher for a certain amount after this time period. If this is clearly inadequate (e.g. enough for a cup of tea and a packet of crisps for a six-hour delay) then you can claim for reasonable additional expenditure – but not for alcohol.
Am I entitled to compensation for the disruption?
That depends on the cause of the delay, and applies only if you arrive at your destination (and an aircraft door is opened) at least three hours after the original arrival time.
In the case of an IT meltdown at easyJet, or any kind of technical problem on any airline, it is difficult to see how the carrier can avoid paying out cash compensation.
Again, there is a sliding scale.
- Journeys of under 1,500km: £220
- Journeys of 1,500km-3,500km: £350
Airlines generally have a portal on their website for these claims, though often it is not easy to find. In the case of easyJet, this is the correct link.